All About Adolescent Literacy

All about adolescent literacy. Resources for parents and educators of kids in grades 4-12.
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Adolescents and Literacy: Reading for the 21st Century

This report reviews and analyzes existing research on effective literacy instruction and the impact of successful literacy programs for students in grades 4-12.

National and international tests incontrovertibly prove that far too many of America's children are reading at levels that are unacceptably low. The most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exams showed that 25 percent of eighth graders and 26 percent of twelfth graders were reading at "below basic" levels in 2002; international comparisons of reading performance placed American eleventh graders very close to the bottom, behind students from the Philippines, Indonesia, Brazil, and other developing nations.

This report examines the reliable, empirical research that exists on how to improve the literacy of children in grades 4-12. Although few would argue that more research on this subject is needed, the report demonstrates that we already know a great deal about reading comprehension and effective methods for helping students of all ages become better readers.

There are only a few narrowly targeted reviews of research on intermediate and adolescent literacy. In this report, four of the most distinguished of those studies (by Alvermann and Moore; Snow, Burns, and Griffin; the National Reading Panel; and RAND) are examined, along with materials from other published and unpublished investigations. Examining information related to teaching and learning strategies, the prevention of reading difficulties, the components of effective reading instruction, and reading comprehension, the report considers the importance and impact of factors including motivation, alphabetic principle, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension (including prior knowledge and strategy instruction) on literacy instruction.

Other issues considered in the report include:

  • the developmental nature of reading and content learning, considering the notion that the ability to learn from text changes over the course of one's education and as the result of life experience;
  • the differing needs of English-language learners (students whose first language is something other than English), and the special instructional challenges related to helping these students to become more literate in English;
  • the role that technology can play in helping students to better read and comprehend text, and the computer-assisted instruction that offers an alternative or adjunct to traditional reading instruction;
  • the importance of education and professional development for teachers to improve the reading ability of their students;
  • the infrastructure that exists in middle and high schools that encourages or discourages reading instruction, and the resistance that some content teachers have
  • toward incorporating reading instruction into their curricula.

There are approximately 8.7 million fourth through twelfth graders in America whose chances for academic success are dismal because they are unable to read and comprehend the material in their textbooks. This report, which brings together in one place the key findings of the best available research on issues related to adolescent literacy, offers policymakers and the public a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities that confront us as we work to improve the literacy levels of older children.

Kamil, M.L. (2003, November). Adolescents and Literacy: Reading For The 21st Century. Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education.

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